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John Ward at Old Trafford
August 12, 2009
Lancashire 252 for 9 (Laxman 87, Loye 60, Blackwell 6-85) trail Durham 270 by 18 runs
Lancashire for most of this day were rather like a boxer who, outclassed and looking on the point of being knocked out, nevertheless refuses to go down and still manages to give a few blows in return though constantly on the ropes. Their most notable antagonist was the left-arm spinner Ian Blackwell, who took six of their wickets with skillful variations of pace and spin. Prophecies that Lancashire would lose in three days were proven almost certainly false as the threadbare team are still very much in this match and, with rain predicted for Friday, a result might not be possible after all.
Lancashire quickly suffered two major blows, resuming on 0 for 0. Callum Thorp had a very close lbw shout against Stephen Parry rejected, and the batsmen scrambled the first run of the innings, a leg-bye. Then, next ball, Paul Horton uncharacteristically chased one down the leg side, to be given out caught by the keeper. Parry never looked comfortable, and was finally out lbw to the same bowler, pushing forward but down the wrong line; he had made 2 off 22 balls. Lancashire were 16 for 2.
A very cautious VVS Laxman joined Mal Loye, who played some defiant strokes as Durham surged forward to build on their advantage. Durham, like Lancashire the previous day, perhaps erred by waiting until the 18th over to bring on their spinner, but after two early wickets they had more excuse. Pushing the ball through faster than Gary Keedy had done, Blackwell didn't strike until after lunch. Loye decided to get stuck into Mark Davies, one of county cricket's most economical bowlers, and he hit him for two sixes in an over, one a full-blooded pull over midwicket and the second over long-leg. Another fine pull for four off Liam Plunkett brought him his 50 off 78 balls, and he went in to lunch with 55 out of 81 for 2.
Soon after the break, Loye tried another pull off Blackwell slightly short of a length, which turned quite sharply on him, leaving him adjusting his stroke too late and skying a catch towards square leg, which was held by the keeper. His 60 came off 101 balls, with five fours and three sixes. Blackwell, as Keedy had done, began to dominate play, and removed Mark Chilton and Faf du Plessis, both lbw on the back foot, with successive balls. Luke Sutton soon followed, sweeping at a ball he clearly thought pitched outside leg stump, but also being sent from the field lbw.
Lancashire had at this point just saved the follow-on, but were looking pretty groggy at 123 for 6. Laxman was still there, but playing a quiet innings, largely unnoticed. Kyle Hogg proved to be just the right partner for him and the situation. He soon settled in, playing very sensibly, and after tea occasionally unleashed a handsome cover-drive for four. By then Laxman was past his 50, which took him all of 126 balls, and he celebrated the landmark by leaping down the pitch and startling Blackwell with a powerful straight drive for four.
Generally, though, he only gave occasional glimpses of his true supremacy. He eventually fell for 87, as he tried to swing one of Dale Benkenstein's slow-medium dobbers over the leg-side, only to find Liam Plunkett at midwicket leaping to his left to take a fine one-handed catch. The pair had put on an invaluable 84 for the seventh wicket, giving Lancashire an outside chance of matching the Durham total. The odds immediately worsened, though, as Blackwell returned and immediately dismissed Hogg, lbw to a turning ball for 42, and then Oliver Newby, the sixth lbw of the innings, to a straight one. Lancashire had lost three wickets for six runs and were now 213 for 9.
But still Lancashire were not done. The last pair of Tom Lungley and Gary Keedy caused considerable surprise and some annoyance to the visitors by hanging in together until the close and playing some spirited strokes into the bargain. Although overshadowed by Blackwell, the Durham seamers did a fair job, with Thorp the most impressive.
Durham are still the big battalion in this match, but they are finding the weakened host team no pushovers and an interesting battle beckons.
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